I've moved! Follow me over to The Balanced Baker.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

TWD: Fluted Polenta and Ricotta Cake

I guess I was more adventurous than others this week, and actually gave the really weird sounding recipe a try. With advice for other TWD Bakers, I reduced the amount of sugar, and it was definitely still sweet enough. It was very similar to a cornbread, and very, very yummy. I personally don't care for the way the butter looked on top after baking, and I'd omit the butter altogether if I make this again. Overall, another winner! (and I am tired, so letting the pictures do the talkin'!)

Fluted Polenta and Ricotta Cake
Source: Baking: From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan
Chosen by Caitlin of Engineer Baker

About 16 moist, plump dried Mission or Kadota figs, stemmed (I used dates)
1 c. medium-grain polenta or yellow cornmeal
½ c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 c. ricotta
1/3 c. tepid water
¾ c. sugar
¾ c. honey (if you’re a real honey lover, use a full-flavored honey such as chestnut, pine, or buckwheat)
Grated zest of 1 lemon
2 large eggs

Getting Ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter a 10 ½-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom and put it on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat. (I used a 9" springform pan and made a mini tester tart in a 4 inch tart pan)

Check that the figs are, indeed, moist and plump. If they are the least bit hard, toss them into a small pan of boiling water and steep for a minute, then drain and pat dry. If the figs are large (bigger than a bite), snip them in half.

Whisk the polenta, flour, baking powder, and salt together.

Working with a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the ricotta and water together on low speed until very smooth. With the mixer at medium speed, add the sugar, honey, and lemon zest and beat until light. Beat in the melted butter, then add the eggs one at a time, beating until the mixture is smooth. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients, mixing only until they are fully incorporated. You’ll have a sleek, smooth, pourable batter.

Pour about one third of the batter into the pan and scatter over the figs. Pour in the rest of the batter, smooth the top with a rubber spatula, if necessary, and dot the batter evenly with the chilled bits of butter.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a thin knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. The cake should be honey brown and pulling away just a little from the sides of the panm, and the butter will have left light-colored circles in the top. Transfer the cake to a rack and remove the sides of the pan after about 5 minutes. Cool to warm, or cool completely.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Tasty Tools: Peanut Butter and Banana Nutella Muffins

My husband loves bananas. But for the past few months, I've brought them home green (because he likes them way before the first appearance of a brown spot) and they have hung on our lovely banana holder until they are almost covered in brown spots. As a result, I have about 8 bananas in the freezer right now. This morning I had SEVEN dark brown bananas, and refused to put all of them in the freezer.

So I went off in search of a recipe that could use the most bananas at one time. My google reader had a number of offerings, but they only used 2 bananas, as most, and I wouldn't have enough of the other ingredients to double the recipe. I came across a recipe from Giada for Banana Muffins that used 4 bananas for 18 muffins, and decided to run with it. I knew I wanted to add a few things, switch a few things, and subtract a few things... so off I went. Then came a stroke of genius... as I went to the pantry to grab the peanut butter, I saw....

the jar of nutella! Screw the mini chocolate chips that I had in mind - these muffins were getting a heart of nutella! With this addition, I think these muffins really push that fine line between a muffin and a cupcake. Maybe they are mupcakes?

As I got going, I also realized these would be perfect for April's Tasty Tools Event, which highlights scoops of all kinds. I used a mini ice cream scoop (no idea what the technical term is) to deliver two heaping scoops of batter per muffin, surrounding a heart of nutella. These come together so easily, which is an added bonus!
These were sooooo delicious, but a teensy bit drier than I'd like. That probably has to do with the extra 1/2 cup of dry ingredients I added. Below I have tweaked the recipe to use less flour so it won't be quite as dry. But seriously - YUM - what a nice treat!

Peanut Butter and Banana Nutella Muffins
Yield: 23.5 muffins (had I not been lazy, I'd have picked a bit from the others to make it a whole 24)

~1.5 cups all-purpose flour
~1 cup whole wheat flour
~1 teaspoon baking soda
~1 teaspoon salt
~1/2 teaspoon baking powder
~1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
~1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
~1/4 cup wheat germ
~1/4 cup ground flax seed
~3/4 cup sugar
~1/2 cup sour cream
~1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
~1/2 cup chunky peanut butter
~3 large eggs
~1 tablespoon vanilla extract
~4 ripe bananas, peeled and coarsely mashed
~Nutella, about 6 Tbsp, enough for 3/4 tsp per muffin

1. Line 18 muffin cups with paper liners, or spray with baking spray such as Baker's Joy. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

2. Whisk the flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, wheat germ and ground flax seed in a medium bowl to blend. Beat the sugar, applesauce, sour cream, eggs, vanilla, and peanut butter in a large bowl to blend. Stir in the banana. Add the dry ingredients and stir just until blended.

3. Fill the bottom of each muffin cup with one heaping scoop of batter and spread with the back of the scoop to cover the bottom. Drop about 3/4 tsp of nutella onto the center of each cup. Follow with another heaping scoop of batter, making sure to surround the heart of nutella with batter. Bake the muffins on the middle rack until the tops are golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out with no crumbs attached (but maybe a little streak of nutella!), about 20-25 minutes. Transfer the muffins to a rack and cool slightly. The muffins are great warm, but if they are saved for later, a few seconds in the microwave should bring back the the warm gooey heart.

Nutritional Information (...ready?): Calories - 176; Total Fat - 6.1 g; Sat. Fat - 1.7 g; Cholesterol - 30 mg; Sodium - 158 mg; Carbohydrates -27g; Fiber - 2g; Sugar - 10 g; Protein - 4.6 g.

First... a layer of batter

Second... a heart of nutella

Then... a second layer of batter

Fresh out of the oven, with nicely risen tops


Product Review: Bamboo Handled Kabob Grill Basket

I picked up these grill baskets from Bed, Bath & Beyond because I hate dealing with skewers (especially for vegetables). I saw these back when I was registering for our wedding, and finally got around to purchasing them ($9.99 for a set of 4, but always use your coupons for 20% off!). We have used them twice this weekend and LOVE them! I have found that they fit the equivalent of about one boneless/skinless chicken breast each. They are so easy... just open the cage, plop in your meat or vegetables, lock the cage and toss on the grill. I keep the bamboo handle outside of the grill, so when it's time to flip, the handle is cool and makes it very easy. When the cooking is done, just unlock the cage and empty onto a plate. E-A-S-Y! Clean up is... not as easy, but they are for the grill, so I'm just letting them... "season"

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Caramel Brownies - Revisited

So a while ago I featured Caramel Butterscotch Brownies - which have turned out to be my hubby's favorite dessert. I tried once to use a homemade brownie recipe, but it didn't really pan out so I went back to the cake mix. Last week I received my very own copy of Baking Illustrated and came across their Chewy, Fudgy Triple-Chocolate Brownies. I instantly knew I'd have a winner with this recipe! These are TO DIE FOR! It's the perfect brownie recipe for this!

Chewy, Fudgy Triple-Chocolate Brownies
Source: Adapted from Baking Illustrated, from the Editors of Cook's Illustrated
Yield: 16-25 brownies, depending on how you cut them!

~5 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
~2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped (recommended: Hershey's. I couldn't find that, but did find Nestle "Choco-Bake" pre-melted unsweetened chocolate and that worked fine!)
~8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick) cut into quarters
~3 tablespoons cocoa powder
~3 large eggs
~1 1/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) sugar
~2 teaspoons vanilla extract
~1/2 teaspoon salt
~1 cup (5 ounces) all-purpose flour
~1/3 cup evaporated milk
~35 (10-oz. pkg.) caramels, unwrapped (or those mini caramel balls - they make life so much easier!)
~2 cups (11-oz. pkg.) butterscotch morsels

1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 8-inch square baking pan with nonstick vegetable cooking spray. Fold two 12-inch pieces of foil lengthwise so that they measure 7 inches wide. Fit one sheet in bottom of greased pan, pushing it into corners and up sides of pan; overhang will help in removal of baked brownies. Fit second sheet in pan in same manner, perpendicular to first sheet. Spray foil with nonstick cooking spray. (Because we are dealing with caramel here, I think parchment paper works best... my foil started tearing when I was taking it off and NOTHING is worse than foil in your brownies!!)

2. In medium heatproof bowl set over a pan of almost-simmering water, melt chocolates and butter, stirring occasionally until mixture is smooth. Whisk in cocoa until smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.

3. Whisk together eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt in medium bowl until combined, about 15 seconds. Whisk warm chocolate mixture into egg mixture; then stir in flour with wooden spoon until just combined. Spread half of batter baking pan, spread into corners, and level surface with rubber spatula; bake about 15 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, heat caramels and evaporated milk in small saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly, until caramels are melted. Sprinkle morsels over brownie; drizzle with caramel mixture. Drop remaining batter by heaping teaspoon over caramel mixture. Spread as gingerly as possible to connect as much of the top layer of brownie as you can. It will cook up a little and heal itself if you get it most of the way there. (Don't worry about picking up a little of the caramel. It's aaaaaaaaall goooooood.) Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out with a small amount of sticky crumbs (or caramel!) clinging to it. Cool in pan on wire rack to room temperature. Cut into 16-25 squares, depending on how big you want'em!

*sigh* Now I want BROWNIES!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

TWD: Bill's Big Carrot Cake

I love carrot cake. LOVE it. I remember my mom used to make it for my birthday (unless I requested ice cream cake). She must have make it from a box all those years, because finally, one year she made it from scratch and OH did I hear about it! She would NEVER grate that many carrots AGAIN.

I decided I wasn't up for grating carrots either, so I chopped them up a bit and threw them in this reeeaaaally mini food processor attachment that came with my immersion blender. I had 'grated' carrot in seconds.

I debated leaving out the raisins in this, because I don't really think they have a place in carrot cake, but ultimately I decided that I should give the whole recipe a chance, at least once! I used golden raisins (that I still had leftover from the apple-pie cake) so my cake didn't have random dark specs in it. Also, frosting it didn't go quite as planned. Dorie's fabulous photo shows a bare-sided cake, with a thick, luscious heap of frosting between each layer of cake. I was afraid of not having enough frosting (and apparently too lazy to measure) so when the second layer was plopped down, I realized I'd skimped to much. By the time I was done, I had enough left to frost the sides, so I did, but it wasn't quite thick enough.. blah blah blah, I stuck some coconut on there and called it a day.

Overall, this is one FABULOUS carrot cake - incredibly moist and SO tasty. Next time I probably will omit those raisins, and maybe give the pecans a try. I used walnuts this time and would love to see what pecans bring to the table.

Oh, and check out my review of Wilton's Bake Even Strips... I used them on these layers and they came out perfect!

Bill's Big Carrot Cake
Baking: From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan
Chosen by Amanda of slow like honey
See more TWD bakers here!

Yields 10 servings


For the cake:
2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon salt
3 cups grated carrots (about 9 carrots, you can grate them in food processor fitted w/ a shredding a blade or use a box grater)
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
1 cup shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
½ cup moist, plump raisins (dark or golden) or dried cranberries
2 cups sugar
1 cup canola oil
4 large eggs

For the frosting:
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 stick ( 8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 pound or 3 and ¾ cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice or ½ teaspoon pure lemon extract
½ cup shredded coconut (optional)
Finely chopped toasted nuts and/or toasted shredded coconut (optional)

Getting ready:
Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter three 9-x-2-inch round cake pans, flour the insides, and tap out the excess. Put the two pans on one baking sheet and one on another.

To make the cake:
Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. In another bowl, stir together the carrots, chopped nuts, coconut, and raisins.
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the sugar and oil together on a medium speed until smooth. Add the eggs one by one and continue to beat until the batter is even smoother. Reduce the speed to low and add the flour mixture, mixing only until the dry ingredients disappear. Gently mix the chunky ingredients. Divide the batter among the baking pans.
Bake for 40-50 minutes, rotating the pans from top to bottom and front to back at the midway point, until a thin knife inserted into the centers comes out clean. The cakes will have just started to come away from the sides of the pans. Transfer the cakes to cooling racks and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes and unmold them. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up.
The cakes can be wrapped airtight and kept at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to 2 months.

To make the frosting:
Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter together until smooth and creamy. Gradually add the sugar and continue to beat until the frosting is velvety smooth. Beat in the lemon juice or extract.
If you'd like coconut in the filling, scoop about half of the frosting and stir the coconut into this position.

To assemble the cake:
Put one layer top side up on a cardboard cake round or a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. If you added the coconut to the frosting, use half of the coconut frosting to generously cover the first layer (or generously cover with plain frosting). Use an offset spatula or a spoon to smooth the frosting all the way to the edges of the layer. Top with the second layer, this time placing the cake stop side down, and frost with the remainder of the coconut frosting or plain frosting. Top with the last layer, right side up, and frost the top- and the sides- of the cake. Finish the top with swirls of frosting. If you want to top the cake with toasted nuts or coconut, sprinkle them on now while the frosting is soft.
Refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes, just to set the frosting before serving.

This cake can be served as soon as the frosting is set. It can also wait, at room temperature and covered with a cake keeper overnight. The cake is best served in thick slices at room temperature and while it's good plain, it's even better with vanilla ice cream or some lemon curd.

The cake will keep at room temperature for 2 to 3 days. It can also be frozen. Freeze it uncovered, then when it's firm, wrap airtight and freeze for up to 2 months. Defrost, still wrapped, overnight in the refrigerator.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Product Review: SideSwipe Blade

My trusty Kitchen Aid beater was starting to chip after too many runs in the dishwasher (which, apparently I am not supposed to put it in). In the market for a new beater, I had heard about the SideSwipe beater and just decided to get it!

The first thing I noticed was the big set of instructions. There are a few restrictions to using the Sideswipe blade, such as: no peanut butter, no chunky ingredients like chips, only for use on low speed. The little blue fingers are firm with a little give to them, and definitely hug the bowl nicely. Cleaning can be a little tedious, getting it out of the grooves, but this is also depends on the batter... really fingers work best!

Results: Here is a video I made of the SideSwipe in action, I think it speaks for itself! I used peanut butter (oops!) and it worked just fine. Also, my mixer jostles around a bit, I think because it is not aligned properly and one side of the bowl gets hit with more pressure than the other. If tinypic is being uncooperative with the embedded video, click on the link below and you should be able to see the it.

A link for those that can't see the video

Product Review: Wilton's Bake Even Strips

I finally got around to using these Wilton's Bake Even Strips. I've had them for... probably almost a year! This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, a layered carrot cake, was the perfect time to test them out.

I have the small package, which is two strips, enough for two 8 or 9 inch round pans. The strips are soaked in cold water, and excess water is squeezed out using your fingers. On my 9 inch pans, the ends just barely cross over each other, and are secured with a pin. They came out of the oven dry (and a warm to the touch), so I just let them cool and then stowed them away.

Results: I think my carrot cake layers came out great! I certainly don't feel the need to level them off. Some edges were slightly more browned than I'd like, but that may have to do with me not turning the oven down 25 degrees for my dark, nonstick pans. Overall I think they work great!

Sangria for spring!

We are so glad that, in April, Chicago has finally decided to shake off winter. I got a few herbs to start growing, we're firing up the grill for the first time, and I decided that sangria was in order for our grillin' day. We also mixed up some guacamole to munch on while the grill gets going. (I'd give you a recipe for guacamole, but hubby makes it and he doesn't measure things... it's a simple combination of avocado, cilantro, and lime juice.)

750 ml red, Spanish, rioja wine
about 1/2 apple (I use macs), sliced 1/4 inch thick
about 1/2 orange, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 lemon, sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 limes, sliced 1/4 inch thick
6 to 8 strawberries, rinsed, stemmed and chopped
1 can Sprite (or similar)

Combine wine and fruit in a pitcher, refrigerate many hours, overnight if possible. When ready to serve, add sprite and mix thoroughly. Serve over ice.

Easy peasy!

Monday, April 14, 2008

No Marshmallows Here

If you are looking for this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe (Marshmallows!), you will not find them here, but feel free to check out what all the other bakers did here. I pick my battles in the kitchen and marshmallows just do not have a great enough return for the effort for me. My vision of marshmallows includes beautiful cylinders with perfectly rounded edges, thrust on a stick and set ablaze. I knew I could not recreate such perfect pillows of heaven on my own. Plus, powdered sugar and I are having a fight. We have not been getting along for the past year or so.

Instead, I made quite a few lovely things this weekend from my new Baking Illustrated cookbook! The sugar cookies have already grace the page and there will be more coming soon!

Sugar Cookies!

I love sugar cookies. LOVE them. I've made two different recipes so far, and really didn't like either of them. With my new copy Baking Illustrated in hand, I knew it was just a matter of time until I had the perfect sugar cookie in my hand. These came together fairly easy. Rolling and pressing is more time consuming than my normal cookie shaping techniques, but it was worth it! This is my first recipe from this cookbook and it did NOT disappoint!

Soft and Chewy Sugar Cookies
Source: Baking Illustrated, from the Editors of Cook's Illustrated
Yield: 28 cookies for me!

~2 cups (10 ounces) AP flour (lower protein) such as Pillsbury or Gold Medal)
~1/2 tsp baking powder
~1/4 teaspoon salt
~16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool (they recommend 65F) (reserve butter wrappers for later)
~1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar, plus 1/2 cup for rolling dough
~1 tablespoon light brown sugar
~1 large egg
~1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 375º F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or spray them with nonstick cooking spray. Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl, set aside.

2. Cream together the butter, 1 cup granulated sugar and brown sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Add the egg and vanilla; beat at medium speed until combined, about 30 seconds. Add the dry ingredients at low speed until just combined, about 30 seconds, scraping down the bowl as needed.

3. Place the sugar for rolling in a shallow bowl. Fill a medium bowl halfway with cold tap water. Dip your hands in the water and shake off any excess (this will prevent the dough from sticking to your hands and ensure that the sugar sticks to the dough). Roll a heaping tablespoon of dough into a 1 1/2 inch ball between moistened palms, roll the ball in the sugar, and then place it on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough, moistening your hands as necessary and spacing the balls about 2 inches apart. Butter the bottom of a drinking glass with the butter wrapper. Dip glass in the remaining sugar and flatten the balls down to about 3/4 inch thick (re-dip glass in sugar as necessary to prevent sticking).

4. Bake for 15-18 minutes until the cookies are golden brown around the edges and their centers are just set and very lightly colored, rotating the baking sheets front to back and top to bottom half-way through baking. Cool on sheets about 3 minutes; transfer to a wire rack to cool to room temperature.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Platinum Chef Challenge 6.5

PCC 6* brought a new element to the game: the host chooses his or her favorite from the entries, and that person becomes the next Ingredient Master/Host. Last time, Cara selected Kate of Paved with Good Intentions, and she chose the following 5 ingredients: lemon, rosemary, leeks, cream, and capers. I jumped right into the challenge (as typically the wheels start turning as soon as I hear the ingredients!), determined to be done early. I made a wonderful looking dish of tilapia cooked in a parchment pouch (a la Alton Brown) that was SO BLAND with some slightly undercooked potatoes.
Exhibit A: But it looks so PRETTY going into the pouch!

...and coming out of said pouch!

... and I even made blue garlic!

So, it was back to the drawing board. I switched things up and went back to my faithful standby - chicken. With a quick search at Cooking Light for a lighter cream sauce (which I halved in my recipe) and a few favorite ingredients in mind, I was on my way! The sauce came out perfect - creamy and I knew I wasn't killing my waistline with it. The olives really made themselves known without overpowering, and played nicely with the rosemary/thyme. We loved it! (And, I was thrilled to use my new olive pitter!)

PCC6.5 Creamy Chicken and Pasta**

~1 Tbsp butter
~3 Tbsp olive oil
~roughly 1/3 cup cornstarch for dredging chicken
~about 2 tsp crushed rosemary
~about 2 tsp crushed thyme
~3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced into strips
~2 cloves garlic, minced or otherwise pulverized
~1/2 can artichokes (about 5 hearts) quartered
~1 leek, outer leaves removed, sliced down the middle and rinsed, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
~1/2 cup shiitake mushrooms, sliced
~about 1 Tbsp capers
~roughly 15 Kalamata olives, chopped
~juice of 1/2 lemon
~1/6 cup flour
~1 1/8 cups skim milk
~1/2 cup white wine
~1/4 cup cream cheese (1/3 less fat)
~6 ounces of your favorite pasta, cooked and drained.

1. Heat butter and 2 Tbsp of the olive oil in a large skillet. Combine cornstarch with rosemary, thyme, and some salt and pepper. Dredge chicken strips in cornstarch mixture, shaking off excess before adding to skillet. Brown chicken a few minutes on each side, then remove from pan and keep warm.
2. Add remaining 1 Tbsp olive oil to pan and heat. Add garlic and saute 1-2 minutes. Add artichokes, leeks, mushrooms and lemon juice, saute for a few minutes until vegetables being to soften.
3. Place flour in a small bowl. Add milk and wine, whisking until combined. Add to skillet, scraping loose bits from the bottom. Add olives and capers, simmer about 5 minutes, letting sauce thicken. Add chicken back to pan and allow chicken to cook through, 5-10 minutes.
4. Add cream cheese to skillet, stir to melt and combine. Add cooked pasta, mix thoroughly, and serve!

*So I had last round as #6, and having two #6's will mess me up so I am calling this round 6.5 :-)
**I am well aware of my distinct lack of naming skills.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

TWD: Dueling Tarts

This week Mary of Starting From Scratch chose The Most Extraordinary French Lemon Cream Tart, which I will admit to having no interest in. I basically hate anything lemon. Fortunately, I am not alone in this matter and there was an alternative for us lemon haters: Fresh Orange Cream Tart. (See what everyone make here)

I started this undertaking with a fresh outlook. Tarts are new for me. I just bought my first tart pans (6 mini ones) from Williams-Sonoma a week or so ago, so I was excited to break them in.

After making this (no real issues except the cream didn't quite hit 180 degrees), I tried putting a tart together and seeing if it was amenable to slicing and serving. Not so much! I think I patted a little too hard forming the tarts. It still tasted fine, but they didn't come easily out of the tart pans and some spots were a little dense.

With tart failure on my hands, I was wondering WHAT on EARTH I was going to do with the rest of the orange cream. No way would my husband go near it (not much a sweet tooth, that one!) and there was no way I was eating it myself. I decided that cupcakes (my new favorite!) were in order - mostly because they would be easy to share with friends. As not to spoil the tradition of TWD, I'll leave you here with the Fresh Orange Cream Tart as it was meant to be (then go post about the cupcakes!).

Fresh Orange Cream Tart
1 cup sugar
Grated zest of 3 oranges
Grated zest of 1 lemon
4 large eggs
Scant 3/4 cup fresh blood-orange juice or Valencia orange juice
3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1 Tablespoon cold water
2 3/4sticks (11 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-sized pieces, at cool room temperature
1 9-inch tart shell (round or square) made with Sweet Tart Dough (recipe follows) or Sweet Tart Dough with nuts, fully baked and cooled.
3 orange segments, for decoration
1/3 cup quince or apple jelly mixed with 1/2 teaspoon of water, for glazing

Getting Ready: Have an instant-read thermometer, a strainer and a blender (first choice) or food processor at hand. Bring a few inches of water to a simmer in a saucepan.

Put the sugar and orange and lemon zest in a large heatproof bowl that can be set over the pan of simmering water. Off the heat, rub the sugar and zest together between your fingertips until the sugar is moist, grainy and very aromatic. Whisk in the eggs, followed by the orange and lemon juice.

Set the bowl over the pan, and start stirring with the whisk as soon as the mixture feels tepid to the touch. You want to cook the cream until it reaches 180 degrees F. As you whisk—you must whisk constantly to keep the eggs from scrambling—you'll see that the cream will start out light and foamy, then the bubbles will get bigger and then, as it gets closer to 180 degrees F, it will start to thicken and the whisk will leave tracks. Heads up at this point—the tracks mean the cream is almost ready. Don't stop whisking or checking the temperature, and have patience—depending on how much heat you're giving the cream, getting to temp can take as long as 10 minutes.

As soon as it reaches 180 degrees F, remove the cream from the heat and strain it into the container of the blender (or food processor); discard the zest.

Soften the gelatin in the cold water, then dissolve it by heating it for 15 seconds in a microwave oven (or do this in a saucepan over extremely low heat). Add the gelatin to the filling and pulse once just to blend, then let the filling cool to 140 degrees F, about 10 minutes.

Turn the blender to high (or turn on the processor) and, with the machine going, add the butter about 5 pieces at a time. Scrape down the sides of the container as needed as you incorporate the butter. Once the butter is in, keep the machine going—to get the perfect light, airy texture, you must continue to blend the cream for another 3 minutes. If your machine protests and gets a bit too hot, work in 1-minute intervals, giving the machine a little rest between beats.

Pour the cream into a container, press a piece of plastic wrap against the surface to create an airtight seal and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight. (The cream will keep in the fridge for 4 days and, or tightly sealed, in the freezer for up to 2 months; thaw it overnight in the refrigerator.)

When you are ready to assemble the tart, whisk the cream vigorously to loosen it. Spread the cream evenly in the crust. Arrange the orange segments in the center of the tart and prepare the glaze: bring the jelly and water to a boil. Use a pastry brush or pastry feather to lightly spread the jelly over the orange segments and cream. Serve now or refrigerate the tart until needed.

Serving: The tart should be served cold and needs nothing more than dark espresso or champagne.
Storing: While the Orange cream can be made ahead, the tart should be served on the day it is assembled.

Sweet Tart Dough

Makes enough for one 9-inch crust (Or, as I found, 6- 10 cm mini tart pans)

Storing: Well wrapped, the dough can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 2 months. While the fully baked crust can be packed airtight and frozen for up to 2 months, I prefer to freeze the unbaked crust in the pan and bake it directly from the freezer—it has a fresher flavor. Just add about 5 minutes to the baking time.

In French, this dough is called pâte sablée because it is buttery, tender and sandy (that's what sablée means). It's much like shortbread, and it's ideal for filling with fruit, custard or chocolate.
The simplest way to make a tart shell with this dough is to press it into the pan. You can roll out the dough, but the high proportion of butter to flour and the inclusion of confectioners' sugar makes it finicky to roll. I always press it into the pan, but if you want to roll it, I suggest you do so between sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper or inside a rolling slipcover (see page 491 of the book).

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (9 tablespoons) very cold (or frozen) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg yolk

~Put the flour, confectioners' sugar and salt in a food processor and pulse a couple of times to combine. Scatter the pieces of butter over the dry ingredients and pulse until the butter is coarsely cut in—you should have some pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and some the size of peas. Stir the yolk, just to break it up, and add it a little at a time, pulsing after each addition. When the egg is in, process in long pulses—about 10 seconds each—until the dough, which will look granular soon after the egg is added, forms clumps and curds. Just before you reach this stage, the sound of the machine working the dough will change—heads up. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and, very lightly and sparingly, knead the dough just to incorporate any dry ingredients that might have escaped mixing.

To press the dough into the pan: Butter a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the pan, using all but one little piece of dough, which you should save in the refrigerator to patch any cracks after the crust is baked. Don't be too heavy-handed—press the crust in so that the edges of the pieces cling to one another, but not so hard that the crust loses its crumbly texture. Freeze the crust for at least 30 minutes, preferably longer, before baking.

To partially or fully bake the crust: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter the shiny side of a piece of aluminum foil and fit the foil, buttered side down, tightly against the crust. (Since you froze the crust, you can bake it without weights.) Put the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the crust for 25 minutes. Carefully remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down gently with the back of a spoon. For a partially baked crust, patch the crust if necessary, then transfer the crust to a cooling rack (keep it in its pan).

To fully bake the crust: Bake for another 8 minutes or so, or until it is firm and golden brown. (I dislike lightly baked crusts, so I often keep the crust in the oven just a little longer. If you do that, just make sure to keep a close eye on the crust's progress—it can go from golden to way too dark in a flash.) Transfer the tart pan to a rack and cool the crust to room temperature before filling.

To patch a partially or fully baked crust, if necessary: If there are any cracks in the baked crust, patch them with some of the reserved raw dough as soon as you remove the foil. Slice off a thin piece of the dough, place it over the crack, moisten the edges and very gently smooth the edges into the baked crust. If the tart will not be baked again with its filling, bake for another 2 minutes or so, just to take the rawness off the patch.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Fresh Orange Cream Tart Turned... Orange Cream Cupcakes!

So this week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe was a Fresh Orange Cream tart. My mini tarts didn't turn out so well, and I needed SOME way to unload this butter laden orange cream. I decided to go for some cupcakes filled with the orange cream, topped with a simple vanilla glaze.

I stumbled upon this recipe for Blood Orange Banana Cake and thought it would be perfect (besides, I have 6 bananas in my freezer and 2 more that were ready to go in, which made it eve more useful for me). Much to my own surprise... these turned out pretty good! The orange in the cake is pretty well hidden behind the banana flavor, so it really got a boost from the orange cream. The light vanilla glaze was the perfect accompaniment!

Blood Orange Banana Cake
1 cup blood orange sections (2 large, peeled)
2 medium bananas
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup butter, very soft
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 2/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 350F and butter and flour a 9-inch cake pan. In a food processor, combine blood orange sections, bananas, sugar and butter and whizz until fairly smooth. Add in egg and vanilla and pulse to combine.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Pour in orange mixture and stir just until no lumps remain. Pour into prepared pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until a tester comes out dry and the cake springs back when lightly pressed. Allow cake to cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes. Run a knife around the edge and invert the cake onto a platter. Reinvert the cake onto a wire cooling rack and allow to cool completely before frosting. Serves 8-10

I increased the recipe by 1.5, thinking that the original recipe would make 12 cupcakes and I wanted 18. I ended up with 26 cupcakes. :-) Oops! I used the cone method to then fill the cupcakes with orange cream.

Simple Vanilla Glaze
1 cup powdered sugar
2 Tbsp butter
dash of vanilla
skim milk to desired consistency
~Beat together butter, sugar, and vanilla. Slowly add skim milk until you reach your desired consistency.
This was enough for a health glaze on 18 cupcakes.

Yes I am pretty horrible at implementing the cone method. I'll get better. I promise!

Linda's Sauce

I have recently began trading weekend culinary adventures with some friends, and when my best friend forwarded her mother's recipe for marinara sauce, I knew I HAD to make it. IMMEDIATELY. I've made homemade sauces before, but those recipes don't hold a candle to this one. It is now and forever my "go-to" marinara sauce.

Linda's Sauce
olive oil
1/2 onion
1 clove of garlic cut in pieces (I grated 3 mega cloves* on my microplane.)
15-20 mini carrots
1-2 celery stalks
1 large (28 oz) can peeled puree tomatoes (Recommended: Pastene Kitchen Ready)
1 small (8 oz) can of tomato sauce (Recommended: Hunts)
2 chicken bullion cubes
2 tsp sugar
little less then 1 tbs each of: parsley, oregano, basil
1 small can of water (use the tomato sauce can), or add more if you want to make it thinner.

~Cover bottom of pot with olive oil. Separate onions pieces and garlic and brown in oil over med heat. Do not burn.
For reasons still unknown to me, I apparently thought you needed to see pictures of this

~Chop carrots and celery very fine (or use food processor). Add to hot oil and brown.
~Once softened, add in peeled puree tomato's, stir, then add tomato sauce, stir, followed by water, stir.
~Add in bullion cubes, stir, sugar, stir, and spices (individually) and stir.
~Simmer on medium for at least one hour.

Double recipe for 4 or more people.

*After my husband tried it, he asked if I put any garlic in, which is a clear sign that I did not use nearly enough. I'll try my hand at roasting garlic and try adding that for more flavor.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Tasty Tools: Warm Asian Noodle Salad

I wasn't sure whether to participate in the Tasty Tools inaugural event. This event was drummed up by Joelen and fellow food lovers on the What's Cooking board. The idea is to select a particular kitchen tool, and ask fellow bloggers (and non-bloggers alike) to submit/share recipes in which they use that tool. For the first time out, Joelen chose the Microplane/Box grater.

Basically *anything* I make would qualify because I "mince" garlic with a microplane (and we use garlic like it's goin' out of style), but I don't do a whole lot of creating my own recipes (yet), so I felt a little silly. However, "KevinsLady"(who is stupendously fabulous, btw, in giving me her blessing to use this here!) on What's Cooking began boasting about a fabulous asian noodle salad recipe earlier this week. It looked good, so I figured, why not? It met the requirements, as I'd be grating not only garlic, but fresh ginger as well!
I hold the garlic on the stem end, to give myself something to hold onto as it gets low. Works great! What you get is almost a garlic paste - a very fine mush of garlic. We LOVE it!
And the ginger...

If this recipe looks even remotely good to you... MAKE IT! You will NOT be sorry! Don't worry about having to buy a whole bottle of sesame seed oil or chili oil... because you will be making this again. And again. I just finished my bowl and I want more!

Warm Asian Noodle Salad
Discovered by: KevinsLady
From: My Recipes.com

~1/4 cup natural-style peanut butter (Natural-style? I use Skippy)
~1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
~1 tablespoon rice vinegar
~1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
~1 1/2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
~1 teaspoon hot chili sauce with garlic (I used chili oil)
~1/2 teaspoon ground ginger (I grated about 1.5 inches of fresh ginger, since I was doubling the recipe)
~1/4 teaspoon salt
~2 garlic cloves, minced

~1/2 pound uncooked linguine
~1 1/2 cups shredded carrot
~1/4 pound snow peas, trimmed and halved crosswise
~1 to 2 cups broccoli (I added)
~1 cup (2-inch) strips red bell pepper (I omitted)
~3/4 cup thinly sliced green onions
~3 boneless/skinless chicken breasts, sliced into strips (I added)

To prepare sauce, combine first 9 ingredients (peanut butter through garlic) in a small bowl; stir well with a whisk. (I doubled the sauce, used 1/2 to marinate the chicken strips while I prepared the vegetables)

To prepare salad, cook linguine according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. While cooking pasta, cook the chicken strips in saute pan until cooked through. [To the pasta:] Add carrots, broccoli and snow peas; let stand 2 minutes. Drain in a colander over a bowl, reserving 1/4 cup cooking liquid. Place pasta mixture, bell pepper, and onions in a large bowl.

Combine peanut sauce and cooking liquid. Pour over pasta mixture; toss well. Serve warm.

Note: Hot chili sauce with garlic can be found in the Asian section of most large supermarkets.
And, I had to include this. I flipped the cap on my new bottle of chili oil, only to see the white protection seal inside. I unscrewed the cap to peel off the seal, but to my surprise found a bottle cap! I literally laughed out loud when I saw this (it's too cute!), so I thought I'd share:

***I can't believe I am just thinking about this now, but sesame seeds would probably be a great addition in here!***